Jan 12, 2018 in Analysis

On the Sublime

The categories of ethics and aesthetics have been core ones to literature for centuries. In her article On the Sublime and Beautiful in Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Nancy Fredricks, an assistant professor of Humanities at the University of Colorado, considers correlation between morality and beauty as presented by the author. In her point of view, Shelly aims at proving the danger of overestimating beauty compared to moral values. Thus, the thesis of the article is related to the idea that the sublime is the dominating category, while beauty is the controversial concept. The critic is quite convincing in her arguments, and succeeds and giving profound grounding to her point of view. Overall, it proves that nurture is a more important factor than nature that shapes a person's identity.

The critic bases her support argument both on comparison and contrast with her fellow critics, thus refuting their arguments about the predominance of the beauty over the ethics. Although Mary Shelly follows a Romantic concept of nature as the incarnation of beauty, this kind of beauty is inseparable from the sublime. Thus, physical beauty of either people or nature is considered to be confirmation of its divine origin. In contrast, Frankenstein creature is unhappy because of discrepancy between its inner beauty and external ugliness. At the same time, as the critic suggests, this opposition implies that people's works cannot be truly beautiful unless they are marked by the sublime. Society's preoccupation with superficial beauty leads to the situation of misjudgment and cruelty, which creates a monster. "In the book's primary plot, society's valorization of the beautiful is responsible for the monster's abandonment and abusive treatment, fueling his bitterness and murderous rage."

When doing her research, the critic uses textual evidence abundantly, analyzing the text at different levels: plot, subtext, symbolism, etc. According to her, the idea of the sublime is rather implied while the moral conflict is evident in the plot itself. Victor is named as the major person responsible for the creature and its behavior, and is actually accused of betrayal. The critics draws comparison between human and divine attitude to creatures, and proves immaturity of humankind compared to the divinity.

Another approach that the critic uses when proving the focus on the sublime and ethics is referring to philosophical inspirers of Mary Shelly, who influence her outlook. Among them is Shelly's contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first feminist thinkers. The critic refers to her treatment of female beauty as a way "to objectify themselves for men to the detriment of their physical, mental, and social well-being. It can, and often does, distract women from cultivating their inner virtue and independence.". Thus, the critic believes that Shelly is quite assertive about proving this point of view in her book, or rather about warning the reader and moralizing to a certain extent. The female characters are superficial and shallow according to Fredricks because of this perspective that women are beautiful objects in the first place. "There is the 'pretty Miss Mansfield' and 'her ugly sister, Manon,' the 'extremely pretty' Justine, and the 'pretty little girl of five' who is the favorite of young William's 'wives' (64-65)."

Finally, the critic draws comparison between the very structure of the book and the concept of monstrosity, which is present at the structural and plot level. In other words, the critic suggests that the author deliberately reduplicates her message at the level of composition to reinforce the opposition between ethics and aesthetics and to demonstrate the flaws of aesthetic approach. "The monster, pieced together out of disparate parts, corresponds structurally to the discontinuous, disjointed quality of Shelley's text, composed as it is of letters, first person narratives, and frames within frames."

In conclusion, it is worth saying that Fredrick's article is a profound research on Shelly's text in it multiple dimensions. The advantage of the research is that it covers many aspects of ethical and aesthetic issues presented in the book, so this adds depth to the overall picture presented by the critics. The perspectives presented by her include philosophical background, structure and composition, and the author's message presented at the level of plot and characters. The ideas are supported by thorough textual analysis of not only the original text but also of secondary sources that might have influenced Shelly's outlook formation, as well as the analysis of sub-text. The arguments presented by Fredrick are quite relevant, though a slightly excess attention is devoted to feminist discourse of the book, which does not contribute to making it heterogeneous, so the ideas remain original but slightly disintegrated.

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